Every so often, developments in the Right of Publicity universe touch on especially serious topics, like the lawsuit filed this week by an actress in the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims (the movie at the center of recent demonstrations and outbreaks of violence in various countries throughout the world).
Cindy Lee Garcia’s lawsuit, filed earlier this week in Los Angeles, alleges invasion of privacy and misappropriation of her likeness, among other claims. In other words, her lawsuit touches on the very subject matter that RightOfPublicity.com is devoted to covering.
Those familiar with Right of Publicity legislation might wonder, “aren’t films usually an exempted category of works under most Right of Publicity statutes?” Good question, and essentially the same one that my contact at Variety Magazine asked when I was consulted for his coverage of the story. My answer was that extenuating circumstances should be considered in relation to the statutory language, and that the situation demonstrates why blanket exemptions for entire categories of works might not always be a good idea. The exemption, so to speak, should not be allowed to swallow the rule.
One might assume that if an actress appears in a movie, she can’t later claim to not know what the movie would be like or how she or the movie would be portrayed. Garcia’s lawsuit alleges that deception was involved whereby her performance was “…changed grotesquely to make it appear that Ms. Garcia voluntarily performed in a hateful anti-Islamic production.” Garcia also alleges that her lines were dubbed into Arabic. She reportedly has received death threats as a result of the film.
I would be curious what Garcia’s contract (if there is one) says about the right of the film makers to edit and revise the film, because that could be relevant to the legal analysis of Garcia’s lawsuit. Nevertheless, if there was deception and misrepresentation taking place, she might just have a case for violation of her Right of Publicity. Contracts, as well as statutory exemptions, can occasionally be overridden.
Here’s a link to Ted Johnson’s story for Variety Magazine: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118059479
Here is a link to CNN’s story on this topic: http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/19/us/california-anti-islam-film-lawsuit/index.html?hpt=hp_t3